During Super Bowl Week in Atlanta, the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams were preparing to do battle at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Meanwhile, another battle raged on: The National Football League vs Colin Kaepernick and the battlegrounds were at various locations throughout the city.

As the week began, the legendary mural depicting Kaepernick in an Atlanta Falcons uniform alongside a Wakanda-inspired mural of Muhammad Ali was destroyed Monday, Jan. 26.

The painting was at a building across the street from Forbes Arena at Morehouse College. Outrage spread and soon thereafter, seven new murals were created at the direction and supervision of Fabian “Occasional Superstar” Williams.

On Jan. 30, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held his State of the League address at the Georgia World Congress Center. The issue regarding Kaepernick’s employment status, allegations of racist collusion, and the vilifying of current Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid were brought up in an intense round of questions to the Commissioner. Many of those questions were asked by African-American media members.

“I think if a team decides that Colin Kaepernick, or any other player, can help their team win, that’s what they’ll do,” Goodell said. “They want to win and they make those decisions individually, to the best interest of their club.”

Later in the Q&A Session, CBS Sports reporter Jason La Canfora asked Goodell how he thinks history will look at the NFL’s handling of Kaepernick’s activism.

“I’ve said it many times, privately, publicly, that our clubs are the ones that make decisions on players that they want to have on their roster,” Goodell responded without really responding. “They make that individually, they make that in the best interest of their team. And that’s something that we as the NFL take pride in.”

Kaepernick was scheduled to earn $16.5 million at the beginning of the 2017 season had he made the San Francisco 49ers opening-day roster. While his status was in question, Colin opted out of his contract on March 1, 2017, becoming a free agent.

While the Commissioner’s answers to every Kaepernick-related question were rehearsed with the acute tap-dancing ability reminiscent of Gregory Hines, there’s something less esoteric going on here: individuals that refuse to watch the NFL because of the League blackballing Colin Kaepernick, have been browbeating football fans because they choose to watch the NFL on Sundays.

Included in the debate, were comments on social media saying The Atlanta Voice shouldn’t cover the Super Bowl because this publication should actively advocate and be an ally for Kaepernick’s movement.
First, fans that have given up football because Colin Kaepernick did the same is commendable and should be applauded. There is nothing, I mean nothing, wrong with giving up football.

There are fans that don’t like Commissioner Goodell because they believe he’s degrading the game they love for an extra dollar. These same fans also believe Goodell has lied time and time again when asked about Kaepernick. The fans who love the game, continue to support their favorite teams and players believe their voices are being heard. See the signings of Nathan Peterman and Mark Sanchez as examples.

Then, I look at Eric Reid, of the Carolina Panthers, Colin’s best friend, and former teammate with the San Francisco 49ers. After starting safety Da’Norris Searcy was ruled out for the remainder of the 2018 regular season, the Panthers signed Reid. He knelt, he raised several grievances he had with current NFL players and their handling of issues previously raised by Kaepernick. Namely, Reid called current Philadelphia Eagles star Malcolm Jenkins a sellout because of their opposing positions on social justice.

Jenkins, the co-founder of the Players Coalition, had a key role brokering an unprecedented $89 million social justice partnership with the NFL. For his part, Reid believed the coalition has both betrayed the principles of the movement and denied Kaepernick—who was the first player in the league to demonstrate during the national anthem to shine a light on systemic racism and police brutality—his seat at the head of the table. Jenkins agreed to stop kneeling and accept money from Commissioner Goodell.

Again, Reid and Kaepernick are best friends, so one can gleam Reid and Kaepernick share the same position, even though Reid is playing.

Reid has taken the time to air his issues with “the shield”, a nickname for the NFL logo, Commissioner Goodell, the state of American politics and social injustices while still drawing an NFL paycheck each Tuesday during the season.

While I was honored to cover the Super Bowl for an esteemed publication that represents “The Real Atlanta”, I attended each event knowing I was one of a selected few African-Americans covering the biggest game in American sports.

As I walked Radio Row, there were less than 20 African-Americans among the 200 terrestrial radio stations credentialed to cover Super Bowl week. One of the major complaints football players have with the press corps-at-large is that there are not more African-Americans and Black-owned media outlets covering these athletes on a day-to-day basis. While many conglomerates and media outlets are operated by upper-middle-class White men.

The diversity I saw at Radio Row and inside the press box at Mercedes-Benz Stadium stunk. It was appalling, and yes, there is empirical data that will substantiate these claims.

According to the 2018 Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) Racial and Gender Report Card:
85 percent of the sports editors, 76.4 percent of the assistant sports editors, 80.3 percent of the columnists, 82.1 percent of the reporters, and 77.7 percent of the copy editors/designers are white.

Added to that, 90 percent of the sports editors, 69.9 percent of the assistant sports editors, 83.4 percent of the columnists, 88.5 percent of the reporters, and 79.6 percent of the copy editors/designers were men.

Out of the more than 2,000 media members credentialed for Super Bowl activities, less than 10 percent were African-American. Kaepernick has championed for greater representation in locker rooms not just in the National Football League, but across every sport in America.

Yes, I include myself with Jarrett Bell, Larry Fitzgerald, Sr., D. Orlando Ledbetter, Jemele Hill, and others who are African-Americans that actively cover and seek to tell the stories of professional athletes, most respectively NFL players because it is this league that seeks to silence them the most. It would be a dereliction of duty for me, in this office, working for this publication, to refuse the right and the opportunity to cover the Super Bowl.

It’s not solely about covering the game and gathering the news alongside my colleague Sheena Quick of Fox Sports Radio in Charlotte. It was about helping fulfill a glaring need in our sports landscape.

If representation and inclusion truly matter, then we must carry that torch and become a flamethrower for the Black men and women in sports. Not only the athletes, but also the journalists, photographers, on-air personalities, editors, and staff.

Quarterbacks like the Patriots Tom Brady and Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers have gone on record to say that Kaepernick should be on a team; so have Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. There are 32 teams in the NFL and each team carries at minimum two quarterbacks.

Colin Kaepernick raised the issue and was vilified for it. However, as the great philosopher Lauryn Hill once said:

“I play my enemies like a game of chess, where I rest
No stress, if you don’t smoke sess, lest
I must confess, my destiny’s manifest
In some Goretex and sweats I make treks like I’m homeless…”

Turning away from the sport doesn’t solely solve the problem. It kicks the can down the road and Commissioner Goodell would be happy you’ve chosen to walk that path. However, concerned fans and players that choose to attack the issues and raising professional Hell from the inside, ensures Goodell, the NFL Players Association, and the NFL Players Coalition must tackle these issues head-on.

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...

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